Reflections on Practicum Assignments: Part III: Supervisor Perspectives by Marshall Bailly, Assetou Barry, Beverly Peters, Danuta Dobosz, Talatha Kiazolu-Reeves, Jillian Klarman, Michael Petillo, and Tiffany Smith

Hello again! We are Marshall Bailly, Executive Director of Leadership Initiatives and Assetou Barry, Regional Design Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Lead at the National Democratic Institute. We regularly serve as supervisors for students engaged in practicum coursework as part of American University’s Measurement and Evaluation Program. We are here today with Professor Beverly Peters; and several program alumni, including Danuta Dobosz, Talatha Kiazolu-Reeves, Jillian Klarman, Michael Petillo, and Tiffany Smith.

This article on Supervisor Perspectives is one in a three-part series where faculty, students, and supervisors reflect on the practicum experience, as found in AU’s Measurement and Evaluation Program. Part I was on Faculty Perspectives, and Part II was on Alumni Perspectives. (Link to both articles). The series provides perspectives for those teaching, designing, and taking evaluation courses, and mentoring novice evaluators. 

Leadership Initiatives (LI) is a nonprofit organization that supports leadership worldwide. The organization has a dual focus: LI provides seed funding and training for entrepreneurs in Nigeria; and offers youth development through high school internship programs in the USA. LI does not have an evaluation division and has offered AU students the opportunity to conduct face-to-face and virtual evaluations of our programming. Partnerships have provided us with expertise to conduct evaluations, which have enhanced our grant applications, communications with donors, and hiring processes.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide. AU students have partnered with NDI’s evaluators to conduct baseline studies and to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. This virtual work has assisted our evaluators in completing large scale data collection and analysis projects and meeting reporting deadlines.

As practicum supervisors, we offer guidance for faculty and their students.

We face organizational fatigue as we manage programs and seek funding. It is helpful to have a student working on an evaluation, but our full-time staff already have busy schedules. Integrating a student into our work and providing guidance are time consuming endeavors; we cannot always be as available for consultation as we’d like.

Early in the process, faculty and students should set expectations of what is needed from the organization in terms of time, information, and resources. Having a clear and regular communication plan with milestones keeps the project on track.

We find that we need to meld together organizational needs with course requirements–and these are not always an easy fit. Flexibility on the part of faculty, and their active mentorship, helps support practicum projects that provide mutually beneficial relationships.

Some of our work is sensitive, and we tend to guard our data and interactions with project collaborators. In some cases, students will be able to collect data, and in others, they will need to be content with assisting processes. Students will need to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA); and faculty will need to understand that assignment submissions will need to reflect that NDA. We recommend that students use pseudonyms in their course assignments.

When we started hosting AU students, we perceived that the partnerships would benefit our evaluation efforts. Having supervised several students, we now see the practicum as an opportunity to mentor novice evaluators and teach them about the work we do. These practicum assignments foment self-reflection, where students reexamine their ideas about evaluative practice, as they integrate classroom and real world knowledge. Returning to Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning, students glean insight into intersections of identity, culture, and language as they move from the foundational knowledge they gained in courses, to application, through to the human dimension they experience collaborating with organizations such as ours.


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